Lisa Nocita's Reviews > The Night Strangers

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
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's review
Nov 04, 11

bookshelves: fiction
Read in November, 2011

I was excited to pick up Bohjalian's latest novel, The Night Strangers. I have enjoyed his writing previously. The premise was a bit of a departure from his other work and I was skeptical but intrigued. The story reads like a mad cross between a Stephen King novel, the Stepford Wives, and the Witches of Eastwick. I have seen this comparison drawn in other reviews and I couldn't agree more. The story opens with Captain Linton piloting a doomed flight. Geese have flown into the flight path and taken out the engines. There is nothing to be done but attempt to land the plane as quickly as possible but the prognosis for a safe landing is decidedly grim. Captain Linton makes the decision to try a water landing, recalling a recent crash that was averted and saved the lives of all on board ripped straight from the headlines. Unfortunately, circumstances conspire and Linton's crash landing does not succeed the way he hoped. Thirty nine passengers and crew are lost in the wreck. Fast forward a couple of months and we find Captain Linton, exonerated of any wrongdoing or negligence, struggling with his own personal demons and guilt. He is grounded and has no idea what to do with his life now that the thing he loved to do most is taken away from him. Phantom pains and real anguish consume his days. His wife, Emily, a successful and, presumably, smart lawyer thinks that her family would heal best if they could get a fresh start in a remote corner of the White Mountains in Vermont. They, being Emily, Chip, and their precocious twin daughters, move into an old Victorian farmhouse on a hillside overlooking a quaint New England town that is not at all the picturesque little berg it would appear to be. There's a sinister coven of women who are avid gardeners who seem to rule the roost from their steamy greenhouses. The regular folk of Bethel shun the newcomers as soon it is obvious that the "herbalists" have taken an interest in them. They are standoffish to the point of rudeness and offer no help or advice to the new kids on the block, leaving them to figure things out on their own. And that takes a rather long time, especially given the implied intellect which seems to evaporate as soon as they hit the cold mountain air. Add to that the haunted passenger manifest from the doomed flight and an old farmhouse with its own secrets and you have the makings of a rather muddled mystery/thriller. To be sure, the reader must suspend all disbelief to go along for this ride. My problem was that I just couldn't completely buy into the premise. The stories seemed too disparate and bizarre. I will admit to some frenzied hours of reading feeling the adrenaline pumping as Chip devolves into a rather creepy and horrific father who has lost his way and will stop at nothing to relieve the anguish of his departed passengers who refuse to move on. But the other family members seem lackluster and helpless, willing to cast their lot with whatever capricious whims the ladies of Bethel choose. Unfortunately, when all the balls are up in the air, Bojhalian does not manage to keep the razzle dazzle show moving effortlessly. And the ending? Are you kidding me? Improbable, unbelievable, dissatisfying, and inconceivable are the words that leapt to mind when I turned the last page. Sorry to say, but I was thoroughly disappointed!
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